Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Connecting Historical Dots

Hello Reader, 
Got a vaccination for preventing young terrorists?
Maybe Education?

Now, I myself DON’T say 
President Donald Trump is a “national oppressor,” 
but OK, now that I’ve got your attention: 
One thing national oppressors can always count on is support. 

Across the Muslim world, for people in the rural areas, it’s as if they can’t be educated. For urban dwellers, even the smart ones at university, it’s as if they won’t be educated. Such a pity: By ignoring history, they condemn themselves.

I recently heard on the CBC radio, from a woman almost young enough to be my daughter, how in Iran she and the other women were once free to show all their hair, and wear nice skirts and pretty dresses. If today that is not the case, and if today the Ayatollah dictates to the elected president, then all that is not by coincidence, and NOT from religion either. Too bad, how the average young person here in Canada doesn’t know that Muslim women used to have rights; so sad, how young male would-be terrorists, with their vested interest in testosterone, don’t connect the historical dots.

As for Iran, if the day ever comes around that somebody tells me women and men over there now have Human Rights, those worldwide rights the United Nations proclaimed after the war, then on that blessed day I won’t have any reason to ask whether the infamous Evin torture prison has at long last been levelled to the ground. 

Below are some historical dots to ignite a vaccination conversation. I have bold-faced some passages to make it easier to skim. The “long hair” referred to is not for women but for men.

As For Greece
Moderate and leftist politicians were arrested. Long hair was banned, along with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, of Zorba fame. King Constantine refused to support the military, and he was sent into exile. Civil liberties were suppressed. Censorship was instituted.

Papadopoulos won support from the pious rural poor, attracted by his opposition to atheism, his anti-Communism, dislike for 'hippies," his unpolished manner and simple way of speaking. Papadopoulos presented himself as a friend of common people and promoted economic development in rural areas neglected by previous governments. And some middle class urbanites welcomed what they saw as stable government.  

As For China
By 1982… Mao’s portrait was to look over Tiananmen Square, but elsewhere across China his portraits and his statues were being removed. And stockpiles of his writings were collecting dust.

The drab dress of Maoist times was gone. Chinese women were now dressing themselves in "bourgeois colors." The Chinese were now attending motion pictures, exhibitions of western art and attending plays from the West.…

Then on May 30, the demonstration in Tiananmen Square was revived by dissidents erecting a thirty-foot-high, plaster and styrofoam statue called "The Goddess of Democracy." … They claimed that the government would never speak to them unless they maintained the kind of pressure that they were applying.

Many in China's countryside – where eighty percent of the population still lived – viewed the demonstrations with dismay or disfavor.

As For Chile
Chile's military took no chances concerning opposition to its coup. It arrested tens of thousands of Allende supporters and others it labeled subversives, and for the sake of control it put thousands into concentration camps. Some leftist activists were hunted down, and some shot on sight. Many fled to Western Europe and elsewhere. The leader of the coup, General Augusto Pinochet announced that Chile, one of the first countries to have abolished slavery, had now "broken the chains of totalitarian Marxism, the great twentieth century slaver.”

Meanwhile a new constitution had been created that guaranteed eventual elections. In a plebiscite in 1988, 56 percent of the vote was opposed Pinochet continuing as president. Pinochet was furious. He had been in power fourteen years, but like many dictators he liked power and wanted to remain indefinitely. Pinochet summoned members of the military to his office to overturn the results. Air Force commander Fernando Matthel refused to go along, as did other generals, forcing Pinochet to accept the plebiscite results.

As For Sean Crawford
In the Arab world, I have read that many of the ruling class send their children to colleges overseas, to avoid student protests, to avoid having a critical mass of people ready to believe in Human Rights. (Which, according to an Arab taxi driver, can co-exist with religion) 

I envision Arab cities someday providing a critical mass for education; people could then be consciously reach out to the rural areas to reduce the oppressor’s base of support. 

The disposing of Mao’s “portraits and statues” reminds me of Nineteen Eighty-four. In that classic novel I remember a line suitable for anyone in any time and space—the fascist Pinochet, the communist Mao Tse Tung, and the Muslim Ayatollah:

“You do not seize power to make the revolution … you make the revolution to seize power.”

Sean Crawford

~The source is the web,,
Macro-history and world time-line

~I touch on someone’s life under communism, before and during the cultural revolution, in my essay Decent Democracy archived April 2010.

~Here is a link to a lengthy fictional account of some incidents of the cultural revolution, translated into English. 
It appears on the website for Tor publishing, as an excerpt of the Hugo award winning novel The Three Body Problem by Cixin  Liu. 

For anyone who reads to the end of the excerpt, let me say the three parts—cultural revolution, armed civil conflict and environmental devastation—are quite realistic, matching what I’ve read elsewhere, although the novel, of course, is fiction.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Feminism and Terrorism

Hello Reader,
Got children with ideology and religion?

Those people who weren’t politically involved, as I was, may forget that back when people wore peace signs, even peace belt buckles, society endured constant bomb threats, while the The Anarchist Cookbook (for bomb making, 1971) was rolling off the presses. Sean Crawford 

I was wondering
To a young idealist
At university
Epilogue: A feminist regards Muslim Uzbekistan

I was wondering what I would say to my imagined college aged Muslim half-radical niece or nephew. Could I help them to exchange an iron ideology, one where cold parts fit too tightly to let any light shine through, for a loose, breezy uncertainty? The kids might claim I had “sold out.”

Maybe I could honestly tell them that I myself had been an involved teenage idealist, one who left home after my eleventh grade, wearing my non-capitalist home-dyed T-shirt, to go burrow into the edge of old Chinatown. (Of course I would spare them any stories until they were much older)

“Every man of spirit wants to ride a white horse.” If my grandparents, parents and my own peers believed in “salvation by society” as in, for example, a revolutionary form of government, an Arabic democracy, or communes of love… then, as Peter Drucker noted back in the 20th century, our children, giving up on such dreams, now believe in “salvation by religion.” 

Fundamentalism then, Muslim or otherwise, is just like terrorism in being NOT from “poverty and despair” as our bleeding heart leaders claimed after 9/11, but instead, surely, fundamentalism is from hope for a better world—in fact, I dare say there are now more fundamentalists in the affluent U.S.A. than in the less affluent parts of Europe. As a Londoner put it, “God lives in the American midwest.”

(Note: When I was phoning the British Museum long distance, to ask if I could wear my backpack, I caused a stir of laughter when I innocently said, “Praise the Lord.” The answer by the way was: Yes, you may bring your rucksack, but this year we have a line up for checking bags for guns and bombs)

As for London, as I noted here in my September essay I Met a Muslim in London, there were lots of folks in burkas walking around. Meanwhile, crossing my local university, I passed a young lady in black with only a visor slit for her eyes. I did not see that visor as being from [religion + peer pressure] No, I saw her as a typical student showing her [religion + youthful rebellion] .  A few years ago, while the pendulum swings, I read in the newspaper that Muslim kids in town are saying their parents are not Muslim enough. No doubt, to them, their parents praying only once or twice a day, instead of the Islamic five, is wrong. The kids cry: “You just don’t understand!” 

In my day, here in North America, Chinese parents might tell their child, as the kid packed alone to go to China, that China was not a “workers paradise,” that the cultural revolution was not a shining jewel to excite the world. But no, the kids had their own ideas: “You just don’t understand!” There is a Quebec movie (probably The Barbarian Invasions) where a man now old remembers, with a humiliating flashback, praising the cultural revolution. at great length, to a Chinese lady who has suffered unspeakable knowledge, as she just looks at him, steadily and silently.

To a young idealist packing up to go to the middle east, maybe torture prisons are OK, are only for the bad guys, only for the greater good of society, only temporary, to bring about a shining new age. Such iron logic. It was a communist sympathizer and “fellow traveler,” Han Suyin the Asian fiction writer, who helped me understand how to avoid being brainwashed—something I could share with my sister’s kids. As it happens, I was an intellectual, even back in my teens, and idealistic too. Allah knows we intellectuals can be very extreme in following our philosophies right to their fearsome, pitiless conclusions. One day I went to hear Han Suyin, (“Han” as in “China”) Such a gracious, gentle lady. She said you must look at concrete examples, not solely at your abstract religion-ideology. Do this, the lady said, in order to avoid the horrors of extremism. Based on her three-part political autobiography, I knew Ms Suyin was a survivor, gentle and effective, but never a useless bleeding heart: I respected her judgement.

I  would talk with my niece and say to her, yes, I can understand people saying society must be protected from sinners who would kiss each other, and so forth, outside of marriage but, if I may bring things down to a concrete level: Is beheading your cousin Fatima the appropriate response? And, to keep things “fair and square,” must cousin Mohammed, in turn, be stoned to death for kissing too? Another concrete example for my Puritan niece: Would you telephone the police if that handsome, nice looking Justin Trudeau was a guest at your house, and then he started smoking marijuana? And if you did, would you visit your former guest while he was in jail? Or would you be too ashamed of phoning? How unsurprising, then, that in Canada such drugs will become legal after mid-2018. 

(Note: In Canada, of course, drugs have remained illegal, but we have never waved the flag and beat the drum to have our society at war: No U.S.-style collateral damage, with President Obama impelled to pardon hundreds of people)

To the kids, I would reminisce about being a welcome member (“Just don’t vote”) of the Women’s Collective and Resource Centre at the university. “Liberation, sister!” And if my nephew’s eyes began to glaze over I’d tell a white lie, “How exciting for me, that they had burned their bras.” I have read that today feminist theory is so obscure only professors can discern it and then teach it, but— In my day, let me tell you, ordinary women without degrees could meet in people’s houses and share their concrete stories and experience. By doing so they encouraged each other to lower their mental defences and raise their consciousness. “The truth will set you free—but first it will make you miserable.” From their lived examples they formed theories, miserable ones maybe, but good ones. Heady stuff. Empowering. As for that new fangled assertiveness training, theory could be a friendly foundation, but assertiveness training only worked by using concrete examples. 

At university, if my niece and nephew were smart enough to attend, and if I visited, then I would tell them that technical courses require students to grind out equations every evening, right until up bed time—they are in school to learn the answers. It’s no coincidence terrorists never major in the liberal arts. In a general studies education, “free time” is part of the workload, for they are there to learn the questions.  Students may stay up, a boy and girl across coffee mugs from each other, not for equations but for discussing the meaning of life. (We just don’t do that in the working world) 

Term papers will be assigned well in advance of deadline, for students to have ample time to sit under an apple tree and get hit on the head by an idea. Too bad half of them will spin out their term paper the weekend before, but as for the other half—Wow. As a student, you discover there are no nice, tidy, ideological answers. You compare and contrast, document and footnote, and at the end of the term… the scholar still retains an open mind, the same as any scientist. 

The only fitting True Answer, however vague, is: Let us work for the common good. 

Let’s not have civilization go backwards. Because, as our liberal education unfolds,  we come to realize: it’s been such a terribly long, slow slog to get this far.

Sean Crawford

Epilogue: A feminist regards Muslim Uzbekistan
Missing… because it was posted here last week. (archived October 2017)

~To document that terrorists don’t take general studies, see the opening of my essay Backfire, a book review, archived September 2010.

~for “today feminist theory is so obscure” see (link) 

~I wonder: In the British Guardian newspaper this week, did a non-feminist scientist’s unexamined belief in “society as we know it” misinterpret a viking grave? (link to) How the female viking warrior was written out of history.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

As Epilogue a Feminist regards Muslim Uzbekistan

Hello Reader,
Remember your activism, back when the world was young?

I am publishing this epilogue first: It is the ending to next week’s piece, where I talk to my niece and nephew without revealing my own youthful involvement.

In London last month, on the embankment, (Bankside) at the free Tate museum of modern art, I paid to see a special exhibit of US Black political art. Outside the entrance, in the broad hall, were videos of Blacks speaking on camera: the assassinated and the dead. Of them, only Angela Davis, now out of prison, was still alive. From boyhood, I remembered James Baldwin, with great tender love, telling Ms Davis, “If they come for you in the morning, they will come for me in the evening.” I wanted to say so to the ticket taker, but my tongue faltered— I was too sad to talk to any Englishman too young to remember. I don’t regret my youthful days. The art included a door shot up by police killing a Black man as he lay sleeping. (Not the Black panther headquarters door, a different door)

At the exhibit gift shop—some shelves and counters by a cafe—I picked up a collection called Sister Outsider, essays and speeches by Audre Lorde, the U.S. Black poet and university teacher. About a decade before the taking down of the iron curtain, she went to Uzbekistan, a Soviet Socialist Republic. She wrote on page 29: 

But she talked most movingly of the history of the women of Uzbekistan, a history which deserves more writing about than I can give it here. The ways in which the women of this area, from 1924 on, fought to come out from behind complete veiling, from Moslem cloister to the twentieth century. How they gave their lives to go bare-faced, to be able to read. Many of them fought and many of them died very terrible deaths in this battle, killed by their own fathers and brothers. It is a story of genuine female heroism and persistence. I thought of the South African women in 1956 who demonstrated and died rather than carry pass books. For the Uzbeki women, revolution meant being able to show their faces and go to school, and they died for it. A bronze statue stands in a square of Samarkand, monument to the fallen women and their bravery. Madam went on to discuss equality between the sexes. How many women now headed collective farms, how many women Ministers. She said there were a great many ways in which women governed; there was no difference between men and women now in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics… 

From Lorde’s edited journal entries from her trip in 1976 as the invited American observer to the African-Asian Writers Conference sponsored by the Union of Soviet Writers.
Sister Outsider, copyright Audre Lorde 1984, 2007,  Crossing Press, Berkeley

Sean Crawford,
With lots of memories pouring in today,
Je ne regret rien,


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

After the Mullah Hated

Hello Reader,
Got poetic prose?

I am canceling my planned essay for this week, in light of the weekend terror attack in Edmonton. 

I am sure others are composing columns to bring to the newspapers, others are off talking to Muslims in public spaces, and writing for reading aloud at candlelight vigils. I have nothing to add to the voices at those places, but instead I will modestly write here on my little blog.

Note: A mosque is a Muslim church, a mullah is a Muslim preacher, who is always male.

After the Mullah hated

When the man in the mosque preached hatred of the Jews, I was not a Jew, so I did not protest.

When the man preached hatred of unbelievers, I was not an unbeliever, so I did not protest.

When the man preached hatred of Sunnis or else Shiites, I was the other one, so I did not protest.

When Sunnies and Shiites were called to mass for battle along the borders of Iran and Iraq, and all of my neighbours were caught up in the fighting, there was no time left for anyone to protest.

…In Canada, most of the Mullahs were born overseas, perhaps in lands where parents teach hatred to children. These men need our help. They know so much about religion, but what could they know of peace? I’m sure the college in Cairo has no department of Peace Studies. That would only be a Canadian thing.

Some of the mullahs will need the help of Canadian elders in the mosque to teach them that we have suffered through two world wars, and so we have learned two things, two things for sure: 
Hatred never leads to peace, 
every young man who ever terrorized, every Adolf, Benito or Hideki, first started with a feeling of hatred for some one or some group.

If every elder would stomp on every match of hatred, then the mosque would never burn down.

Sean Crawford

~The young men above, of course, are Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.

~After using a search engine, on my 11 inch laptop, the first page of results for university peace studies is all Canadian institutions. 

~Then again, maybe our elders are as helpless as peaceful teens at my old school, where we had a problem with vandalism. Our teachers once asked, “Imagine you saw a student hatefully kicking in a door. Wouldn’t you stop him?” We were silent, because we didn’t know how to tell our teachers, “No, don’t be silly.”

Maybe I’m being silly to think that mosque elders in Canada would dare tell a mullah to stop preaching hatred. 
Because of the recent attack, I can’t go ask, not until things calm down.  

Well, dear reader, any ideas?